• The LibGen shadow library is being sued.
• Shadow libraries have a knack of coming back from the dead.
• The ethical premises behind shadow libraries are gray at best.
Another shadow library is being sued. Major science and education publishers are trying to get “notorious” online database Library Genesis (LibGen, to its friends) taken offline and claw back some of the cash they allege its owners made from copyright infringement.
The suit has been filed in a New York federal court, alleging that several of LibGen’s sites solicit “donations” from users. “These solicitations are in English and seek payments only in Bitcoin or [Monero].” It adds: “one LibGen site reports that it has raised $182,540 from donations since January 1, 2023.”
The filing asks for a legal order “requiring the transfer of the LibGen domain names to plaintiffs or, at plaintiff’s election, cancelling or deleting the LibGen domain names.” It also states that, according to similarweb.com, the sites collectively were visited by 9 million people from the US every month from March to May 2023.
The high user rate might have come partly as a result of Z Library’s closure. After the arrest of Anton Napolsky and Valeriia Ermakova, the alleged operators of the site, on November 3rd, 2022, the FBI seized the site’s domains.
The publishers who are pushing for a similar fate for the LibGen shadow library claim that the people running it – named in the suit as Does 1-50 and whom it states are “believed to reside outside of the United States at unknown foreign locations” – derive “revenue from interstate or international commerce, including through advertizements.”
The textbook publishers claim that “through social media and from their peers, students are bombarded with messages to use the Libgen sites instead of paying for legal copies of textbooks” – depriving the publishers and the authors they represent of their income.
“Defendants compete directly with Plaintiffs by distributing infringing copies of their works for free, displacing legitimate sales. When a consumer obtains Plaintiffs’ works from the LibGen sites instead of through legitimate channels, no remuneration is provided to Plaintiffs or their authors for the substantial investments they have made to create and publish the works.”
According to the suit, Google and “other intermediaries” help LibGen “conduct their unlawful operations.” The US companies it names are NameCheap for domain registration services, Cloudflare for proxy services and – stay with us – Google “for search engine services.”
That’s right. By enabling students to search for free textbooks, Google is liable for the loss of textbook publishers’ income.
The filing includes a screenshot of Google’s “knowledge panel,” (the information boxes that appear when you search for entities in the Knowledge Graph – the quick snapshot of information you see under a link) which it says “describes LibGen as a site [that] enables free access to content that is otherwise paywalled or not digitized elsewhere.”
The Register heard from Matt Oppenheim, lawyer for the publishers, who said “US court has authority to order the transfer of a domain when a rightsholder makes a showing that the remedy is necessary to stop the infringement. If Defendant elects not to appear in the case, that does not undermine the Court’s authority.” In layman’s terms: the defendants don’t have to show up for the action to go ahead.
It’s unclear how successful it’ll be. In 2017, domains of the academic filesharing site Sci-Hub were made inactive following a court order. Dutch science publisher Elsevier won a $15 million order against its operator, Kazakhstani computer programmer Alexandra Elbakyan earlier the same year.
Sci-Hub’s goal, it says, is to make research papers free to access for the betterment of academia. Which as it stands, sounds fairly laudable. To do so though, it took millions of pieces of research from behind paywalls – which is harder to applaud. It’s believed the science publisher’s paywalls are cracked by pirates using leaked credentials.
Despite the success of the cases brought in 2017, journalists have taken Sci-Hub to court on multiple occasions for breach of copyright, which just results in Sci-Hub changing domains and its following going up.
Z Library too is back up and running, despite several attempts to take it down this year.
In a similar vein, OpenAI is accused of copyright infringement. US novelist Michael Chabon and several other writers filed a proposed class action earlier this month, alleging it pulled their work into the datasets used to train the models behind ChatGPT.
Further, the allegations state that rather than have its AI train on paid-for copies of the plaintiffs works, OpenAI used its “internet-based book corpora,” referred to by OpenAI as “Books2,” by scouring “infamous ‘shadow library’ websites.”
These include “Library Genesis… Z Library, Sci-Hub, and Bibliotok, which host massive collections of pirated books, research papers, and other text-based materials.”
There’s especial fervor about banning shadow libraries at the moment, even though they’ve been active (on and off) for years. Whether it’s caused by accumulative financial losses for the publishers, or dominoes falling as each court case arises, the actual efficacy of suing the people behind a shadow library is debateable.